Dutch anti-squatting business thrives amid economic crisis
A Dutch company has made a business out of offering short-term rentals in unoccupied buildings – making money by beating squatters to the punch.
Guido, a penniless student, could hardly believe his luck when offered lodging in the heart of Amsterdam at a fraction of the going rate -- a boon thanks to the credit crunch as property owners desperately fend off squatters.
He smiled from ear to ear upon arriving recently, key in hand, at his new, temporary address: a piece of prime property with vast, empty rooms a stone's throw away from the world-renowned Van Gogh museum. The building will soon be converted into a luxury hotel.
"Until now, I've had to go home to my parents in The Hague (a 50-minute train ride) every day, or sleep on a friend's couch," the 20-year-old sport science student said, after receiving a call earlier in the day from Anti-Kraak BV -- a company that puts tenants in empty buildings at 24-hour notice.
Savings, savings, savings
In a country where squatting is allowed if a building has been empty for more than a year, Anti-Kraak BV is one of about 30 firms offering anti-squatting services and doing brisk trade as slumping property sales leave many a building at risk.
Guido will pay 250 euros a month (350 dollars), at least half the going rate, for a bedroom of some 40 square metres (430 square feet) and his own small living room in an apartment where he shares a kitchen and bathroom with two other students.
"I don't know how long I will be living here, so that's really nothing," said Guido. "It is just incredible that I can live in the city centre for 250 euros!"
The law that tolerates squatting is being revised at the insistence of three political parties, including the majority Christian Democrats of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.
In the meantime, companies like "Anti-Kraak BV" have identified a niche.
"We offer owners numerous advantages: by putting in occupants we discourage squatting and vandalism," explained Joost Koenders, director of Anti-Kraak BV, which manages nearly 400 addresses in Amsterdam.
Owners, who don't pay anything for the service, "can claim back their property at any time," said Koenders. Occupants are given two weeks to move out.
Anti-Kraak BV, which employs about 20 people countrywide, makes its money from the monthly payments of occupants -- mainly students but also artists looking for studios.
No rental agreements are signed, but rather a "utilisation contract."
"Whatever the economic situation, there is always unoccupied real estate," said Koenders. "With the economic crisis, the quality of the buildings we have under management is a lot better."
To date, Anti-Kraak has managed mainly empty offices, buildings threatened with demolition or industrial wasteland.
"Now, many private home owners battling to sell their properties are also coming to us," said Koenders.
Prices were 2.2 percent lower on average.
Thus the owner of a four-room apartment, on the market for more than a year at 265,000 euros, called in the services of Anti-Kraak after other homes in the same street of a popular Amsterdam neighbourhood were invaded by squatters.
Marleen Tijs, a marketing student in her final year, ended up moving in. "I was desperate,” she said. “I could find only small rooms at 500 euros a month and then suddenly I found myself living in 80 square metres."
The "for sale" is still up, and the owner can visit at any time.
Said Tijs: "I hope that he doesn't find a buyer immediately because then I will have to move everything.”
Photo credit: Karen Eliot